WKU Men’s Basketball: Hilltoppers hold off late MTSU surge, beat Blue Raiders 71-63

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — WKU Hilltopper Basketball scored the first 13 points of the second half, rallying from a halftime deficit Thursday to take down rival Middle Tennessee 71-63 at E.A. Diddle Arena.

The Hilltoppers (16-10, 9-4 Conference USA) have won five straight games and eight of their last nine. WKU notched its first home over Middle Tennessee since 2012 and improved its all-time rivalry advantage to 94-43.

WKU was 1-8 in its previous nine games against the Blue Raiders (8-18, 5-8).

“I see a team growing up in front of our eyes down this stretch,” said Talvis Franklin, assistant coach and director of operations. “We’ve had some adversity arise and we’ve let some teams make some runs in the second half, but where we were letting those games slide and get away from us, now we’re learning how to finish those games.

“I just love this resiliency that this team is playing with, I love the togetherness this team is playing with, and I love how our staff is coming together in Coach’s absence, and everyone is doing their job.”

Four Hilltoppers scored in double figures, led by sophomore guard Josh Anderson’s 17 points and seven rebounds.

Redshirt junior guard/forward Jared Savage recorded his first double-double at WKU with 16 points, 11 rebounds and three assists. Freshman center Charles Bassey tallied 13 points, seven rebounds and four blocks.

Redshirt senior guard Lamonte Bearden had 11 points, eight assists and four steals. In his last five games, Bearden has 39 assists and five turnovers.

“We knew we were coming in here and playing against a tough experienced team and we hadn’t won at our place against them so we really wanted to come in and get this victory,”Bearden said. “We locked in in the second half and got that done.”

Middle Tennessee went on a 12-0 run late in the first half to go up 28-22 and led 32-28 at the break.

But WKU came out of the locker room with a 13-0 run, including three straight 3s from sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth, Savage and Bearden to start the spurt. Bassey’s basket made it 41-32 at the 16:55 mark.

The Blue Raiders kept clawing back into the game, but WKU had an answer each time.

When Middle’s Antonio Green hit a 3 to make it 53-51 with 9:14 left, Savage responded with a 3.

Green hit another long-range bomb to trim WKU’s advantage to 64-61 with just over three minutes to play, but Anderson knocked down a 3 at the shot clock buzzer that was called good after a review.

The Hilltoppers made four straight free throws in the final 40 seconds to ice the win.

WKU was outrebounded 46-30, but the Hilltoppers recorded 16 assists against just nine turnovers – two in the second half.

WKU shot 47.4 percent for the game, including 53.6 percent in the second half, and netted 10 of 23 3-pointers. They also outscored Middle Tennessee 16-9 on points off turnovers.

Donovan Sims led the Blue Raiders with 18 points.

WKU plays its final game before Bonus Play begins against UAB at 2 p.m. CT Saturday at E.A. Diddle Arena. The schedule for the final four games of the regular season is slated to be released by Conference USA on Saturday night.

“It’s the next game,” Savage said. “We’ve got to come in here Saturday, a packed crowd, like Coach always preaches and we’ve got to get a win Saturday.”